Jobs threat as new owner warns of Jaeger store closures

FASHION entrepreneur Harold Tillman has sold his majority stake in Jaeger, the business he saved from collapse nearly 10 years ago, with the new owner warning that some store closures are likely to follow.

The 128-year-old chain, which has 50 stand-alone stores, at locations including Bury St Edmunds, Braintree and Cambridge, and 70 concessions within department stores, including Jarrolds in Norwich, has been sold to Better Capital, a private equity firm owned by British venture capitalist Jon Moulton, for �19.5million.

Better Capital, which recently acquired double-glazing firm Everest for �25m, will take a 90% stake but the majority of the cost went towards Jaeger’s secured debts.

Jaeger, which was loss-making when it was acquired by Mr Tillman in 2003, reported �94m in revenues and �1m in operating profits in the year to February 2011.

It is the first high street name to be bought by turnaround-focused Better Capital, which was set up by Mr Moulton in 2009 after he left private equity firm Alchemy Partners.

Mr Tillman made his fortune in the rag trade, starting his career in the 1960s with wholesaler Lincroft Kilgour, where he later rose to managing director before floating it on the London Stock Exchange.

The south Londoner later added to his fortune by buying and selling UK Yves Saint Laurent distributor Marchpole. He bought retailer Aquascutum in 2009 and this, while not included in today’s deal, is also believed to be up for sale.

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Mr Tillman, who is chairman of the British Fashion Council, bought Jaeger for a token amount when its annual losses stood at �12mn and gradually returned it to profit.

But Mr Moulton said Jaeger had “substantial issues” and that he would be “astounded” if it did not have to close some stores.

“The numbers show it was relatively profitable, but is less so now,” Mr Moulton said. “It’s a great brand name and is a business that’s got a good solid base.”

Mr Moulton said Jaeger was still “relatively healthy” and had “something to build on”.

He said Jaeger customers were “part of the population that has not done so badly” in the economic downturn and its low market share gave it scope for growth.